Teaching Profession

What’s the Best State for Teachers? This Year’s Answer Might Surprise You

By Sarah Schwartz — September 23, 2019 3 min read
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Seeking a stable teacher salary and a healthy work environment? A new analysis suggests heading north.

This year, North Dakota took first place in personal finance site WalletHub’s annual ranking of the best and worst states to be a teacher.

The other states rounding out the top five spots this year?

  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wyoming
  • Connecticut

The ranking is based mostly on what the website calls “opportunity and competition"—factors including the average salary and starting pay for teachers, potential for income growth over the course of a career, pension, tenure protections, and job competition in the state. Scores on these metrics make up 70 percent of a state’s rating.

The other 30 percent comes from measures of a teacher’s work environment and quality of life. These categories cover things like per-pupil spending and teacher-student ratio, but also union strength, commute time, and how supported teachers feel in their jobs.

To calculate these scores, WalletHub uses census data, federal education data, and data from the National Education Association, the National Council on Teacher Quality, the Learning Policy Institute, and The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, among other sources. A few of the measures are taken from some of WalletHub’s other state ranking lists, like statewide school quality and how friendly states are to working moms.

Source: WalletHub

In years past, some commentators have questioned WalletHub’s methodology—and since then, the site has made some changes in how it does calculations.

In 2014, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post noted that the ranking didn’t factor in teacher evaluations, job protections, or “whether under-prepared Teach For America corps members are replacing veteran teachers.” Two years later, Max Marchitello of TeacherPensions.org claimed that simply including average teacher pension didn’t capture the variability in what teachers might actually receive at retirement.

Now, WalletHub considers evaluation and job protection measures, as well as share of uncertified teachers in the state and the share of new teachers who are projected to contribute more to their pension plans over the course of their careers than they will receive at retirement.

North Dakota does well on student-teacher ratio, school safety, and growth in teacher salaries, WalletHub reports.

This year, the state legislature approved a 2 percent increase in the education budget. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said the additional money could be used for a teacher pay raise, though districts can choose how they want to spend it.

Still, salaries are below the national average in North Dakota. In NEA’s calculation, the state’s average teacher starting salary is $38,611 (compared to $39,249 nationally), while average teacher pay across the state is $52,850 (compared to $60,477 nationally).

The states that pay teachers the best in WalletHub’s analysis, with salaries adjusted for cost of living, are Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Iowa.

And North Dakota hasn’t escaped the wave of teacher activism that spread across the country over the past year.

Earlier this month, the Fargo teachers’ union sought a court order to force the district school board to resume contract negotiations, after the groups reached a stalemate over teacher starting salary and school safety issues. (It’s illegal for teachers to strike in the state.)

WalletHub’s full rankings are available here.

Photo: Library Media Specialist Stacy Olson talks with kindergarteners at Rita Murphy Elementary School about their Ozobot activity on Thursday, February 28, 2019 in Bismarck, North Dakota. The Ozobots are small, handheld robots that move and follow a marker line. —Kristina Barker for Education Week—File

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.